Saturday, May 22, 2021

UFOs and the opposite of crank magnetism

(Brian here btw, in case anyone's annoyed with this post.)

Crank magnetism refers to how people who credulously believe one wild claim, for example that climate change is a hoax, are strongly attracted to other claims as well. One of my classic favorites from years gone by was a wingnut blogger Fred Hutchison who claimed to have disproven climate change, evolution, and relativity. I'm sure there are many recent examples.

I think there's a much smaller but opposing danger to crank magnetism, which is an overwhelming disbelief in wild claims, a disbelief that's so strong that it holds even when it should start to crack. Maybe call it crank overreaction? This is possibly something I've had regarding UFOs. I'm not saying that I or we should now believe they're space aliens or something equivalently crazy, just that the evidence no longer puts them in the same category of ghosts and faith healing. There should be another category, that of "I don't know what to think."

There have been plenty of serious articles by serious publications taking UFOs seriously lately, with the New Yorker being one of the better ones showing all the old stuff still not to be taken seriously happening at the same time. This isn't the first go-around, as the article says. 

My personal history is that I had a family member very into UFOs and grew up with the childlike belief of "of course they're real". Then I acquired skepticism in my teenage years and dismissed them for the next 30-plus years. Five-ten years ago I saw a round of news talking about credible reports which I didn't pay much attention to. About two years ago to present is when I really started paying attention, the key issue being credible visual witnesses combined with instrument detection.

I remember reading about liars clubs in 19th Century America and about the pranksters that started the crop circle craze more recently, and I used to think that lies plus hallucinations were enough to explain witnesses. Military pilots filing official reports saying they're seeing these things though - there are consequences to them for saying that. And instrumental detection at the same time also makes it difficult to dismiss.

There are lots of reasons to dismiss it still. My personally irrefutable one until recently had been:

1. These hypothetical aliens or whatever are far advanced compared to us.

2. If they didn't want to be seen by us, then we would never have seen them.

3. If they didn't care about being seen, then we'd see them a lot.

I still find that reasoning fairly persuasive, but the evidence of them being seen is piling up. Maybe I also shouldn't be too confident that I can understand the logic of a superior technology/intelligence, although assuming they'll let us see them vaguely but not too close is just weird.

If this were just some weird weather phenomenon with equivalent evidence, I'd say yeah good enough, must be real. UFOs or UAPs or whatever you want to call them haven't risen to the extraordinary evidence level yet, but it's not nothing. Maybe now is the time to neither dismiss nor believe.

I felt like getting this blog post out before the big government report lands in June so it's not colored by those conclusions. I expect it will be more of the same of what we've seen so far, but we'll see. In the meantime keep up the crank skepticism, but not at the level that rejects all persuasion.


Barton Paul Levenson said...

There are plenty of UFOs, in the original sense of "unidentified flying objects." The problem with the flying saucer nuts is that they insist on identifying them, usually as alien starships. That there may be an unknown phenomenon of interest involved goes back at least to Dr. J. Allen Hynek in the 1970s, but he had the sense to disassociate himself from the crazies.

Tom said...

What do you think the various defense departments of the major powers have been spending their bloated budgets on? I could drone on, but...

Snape said...

Aliens have been using Earth flora and fauna to bring biodiversity to their otherwise barren homelands. It’s been going on for millennia.

Endangered species like tigers and giant pandas, already extinct species like wooly mammoths, dodo birds and brontosaurus - are actually thriving on planets elsewhere in the cosmos.

Unknown said...

I agree in general, it is hard to know what to think of UFOs. And opinions are so polarized.

Life may be relatively common in the universe. If so, then some life has been quite a bit ahead of us, like a billion years. That some consequences of such an old life are observable either astronomically or locally here shouldn't be so controversial. What is controversial is the culture around UFOs, which includes a lot of belief and real crankiness.

I don't know about your observability argument. There are various ways of being advanced, and figuring out what a foreign biosphere, that is us, is able to observe and represented may not be easy. There may be a delay in their (or its) adaptation, for our capacities of radar, thermal cameras etc. are relatively new, and a potential larger cultural consequences of observability is quite new as well. What we see may be with constrained autonomy and capabilities (≈robot) with a long history around. There may be multiple parties at play, etc.

Or then we just see multimodal lens reflections. ;)

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Snape: Aliens have been using Earth flora and fauna to bring biodiversity to their otherwise barren homelands.

BPL: Prove it. Show your work.

Snape said...

I wasn’t serious.


The galactic fast food empire's voracious appetite for ever higher speeds may explain the alien abuduction of cheetahs, but where do dodo's fit into the panspermia menu ?

Hank Roberts said...

No shit,Sherlock. A distant aircraft, a sharp video filter typically used on IR camera imagery -- pedestrian explanations clearly explained for these old-new-again "UFO" videos recently rereleased.

Tom said...

To extend Mr. Roberts' line of thinking, reported tornadoes grew dramatically in number as radar and cell phones were adopted. Something similar here?

Pretty sure this is all the military playing with drones.

Brian said...

That County A's military can't tell that something they're seeing is Country B's non-at-all-revolutionary drones seems unlikely to me. OTOH, so do the other explanations.

Hank Roberts said...

So where are all the reports from passenger airline crew and passengers?
I always sit by a window and look out, for each entire trip, usually with a decent camera in hand.

As that youtuber points out, if the effect is only visible from military aircraft using military visualization tools, there's something funny going on.

Barton Paul Levenson said...


A very good point. Another one noted by Carl Sagan many years ago, is that UFOs are never or almost never seen by amateur astronomers--because they're intimately familiar with what the sky looks like, and know what they're looking at.


It is only a matter of time before aliens are enlisted as allies by all sides in the climate wars.

ccpo said...

Rabbett hopped right over all your heads. To simplify: Crazy things *do* exist, but not all things that seem crazy exist. Some crazies who latch onto one crazy thing, then believe all the crazy things are true. Rabbett says most crazy things are crazy, but *some* crazy things might be true, so think on each crazy thing as it's own thing.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

I had an article on habitable zones published, which is vaguely related to climate. Ignore the Highlights, which are from a very early version of the article which came to the wrong conclusions. You might just want to download the pdf (assuming you care at all, that is).